Friday, November 20, 2009

Kansas Travel - Exploring Route 66

Only 12.8 miles of historic Route 66 passes through Kansas' southeast corner - the smallest number of miles in any state along this legendary road. But there's a wealth of cool places to visit near this little stretch of pavement.

Fans of Guy Fieri's Food Network program, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, may remember one great dining spot that's located along the main drag of Baxter Springs - Cafe on the Route. Although I (unfortunately) didn't see the episode, that national exposure is part of what led me to the cafe. And I was blown away by this place.

After a huge breakfast at a Pittsburg, KS B & B, I wasn't ready for a big meal when I reached Baxter Springs but there was no way that I'd pass up this place. So I ordered a chicken wrap sandwich and a side of their famous fried potato salad with mustard glaze. 

The wrap tasted great but I was determined to duplicate the fried potato salad from my first bite. Skin-on potato chunks, with a bit of crunch and lots of soft, were bathed in this amazing glaze that owners, Richard and Amy Sanell, should seriously consider bottling. You get plenty of food for your money too - before the sandwich/side arrived, I also received a huge salad topped with homemade croutons and a small, light-as-air corn muffin.

Dinner entrees ranged from Chateaubriand to Apple Smoked Salmon, Pesto Pork, Honey Mustard Chicken and Nutcrusted Catfish. The Sanells also run a tasteful B & B upstairs, The Little Brick Inn.

In tiny nearby Riverton, grab a freshly made sandwich from the antique deli counter at Eisler Brothers Old Riverton Store, chow down in the sun-filled, porch-like dining area, and then browse through an amazing array of Route 66 memorabilia and souvenirs in the back room. Opened in 1925, the store draws visitors from throughout the U.S. and the world. This favorite stop for Route 66 fans gained additional exposure as inspiration for the Disney Pixar movie, Cars. After 75 years of operation, the store still offers groceries, produce, and flowers with a large side of memorabilia. 

Don't miss this spot when you cross southeastern Kansas. Better yet, make a special trip there and return home with a new appreciation of the Route and its legendary status in America's culture of the open road. And take home a Route 66 shot glass or T-shirt while you're at it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cranberry Chocolate Torte

Despite the fact that I truly love creating my own recipes, sometimes there's just no improving on a perfect 'found' recipe, especially when it comes to holiday traditions. My copy of this recipe is on newsprint from the Kansas City Star that has become yellowed with age and gives no attribution to its author. I've had it for at least 15 years.

This combination is another example of adding seasonal taste to my favorite flavor - dark chocolate. Be prepared to dirty loads of bowls in the process; I counted at least four when I made the recipe again this evening. But the results are phenomenally delicious - something like a cross between cheesecake and a brownie with the tangy zip of cranberries - and a small slice goes a long way. ENJOY!

Cranberry Chocolate Torte
Makes 10-14 servings

16 ounce can cranberry sauce, with whole cranberries
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/4 cup sifted flour
7 ounces dark sweet chocolate, chopped (VOE - chocolate chips work well here)
1/2 cup butter
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar (VOE - I use 1/2 cup)
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place cranberries in small bowl and stir gently until slightly liquid. In another small bowl, combine almonds and flour.

Melt butter and chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water, stirring occasionally to blend. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat egg yolks and sugar until thick and light. With mixer on low speed, add flour and nut mixture to egg yolks, beating until just mixed.

Add chocolate-butter mixture and blend gently. Stir in cranberries and almond extract by hand.

Beat egg whites until they hold their shape but are not dry. Fold into cranberry batter.

Pour into a greased and floured 9-inch springform pan* and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake about 55 minutes, on a baking sheet. Remove from oven and cool completely while still in pan, about 1 1/2 hours. Place in refrigerator until chilled; about 1 hour.

When ready to serve, remove from springform pan and add glaze (see below). Makes one 9-inch torte.


1/2 cup currant jelly
2 tablespoons cranberry juice cocktail

Combine jelly and cranberry juice in small saucepan and heat on medium. Brush chilled torte with warm glaze and allow to set. Give top of torte a second coating. Sprinkle with ground almonds if desired.

*VOE - I use a pastry brush to evenly spread flour across the entire springform surface.

Monday, November 16, 2009

WaterFire Kansas City

We heard the soaring, haunting music two blocks before we reached Brush Creek, at Kansas City, Missouri's Country Club Plaza. Thousands of people already stood and sat beside the quiet, dark creek, hoods pulled up against occasional spitting rain. As rain dissipated, small boats traveled along the creek and passengers lit individual braziers anchored by buoys. 

This was the beginning of the third annual WaterFire Kansas City celebration. The scent of burning embers mixed with the food aromas from top Plaza restaurants while dancing firelight and performers created delightful visual images.

Truly a feast for the senses, 55 floating bonfires eventually illuminate Brush Creek each year while sidewalk performers, fire dancers, and international music enhance the hauntingly beautiful, one-night-per-year experience.  Boats return periodically, to re-stoke the fires, maintaining the ethereal glow throughout this magical evening. WaterFire Kansas City has become a popular fall tradition since artist, Barnaby Evans, replicated his Providence, Rhode Island installation here for the first time, in 2007.
Whoever said that fire and water don't mix has never attended this magical event. If you're not close to Kansas City, check out WaterFire Providence. These beautiful images will haunt your memory long after the event ends.